Updated at: 04/19/2013 1:35 PM
By ROB GILLIES
(AP) TORONTO - The eldest son of late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau is the new leader of Canada’s once dominant Liberal Party after winning a landslide vote announced Sunday.
Justin Trudeau, a charismatic member of Parliament since 2008, won 80 percent party support on the first ballot. The 41-year-old takes over a party that dominated Canada for much of the last century but was relegated to third-party status in the last election.
Pierre Trudeau, who died at age 80 in 2000, was prime minister for almost all of a 16-year stretch from 1968-84. Sweeping to power on a wave of support nicknamed "Trudeaumania," Trudeau had a charisma reminiscent of another young, dashing politician who had captivated the U.S. eight years earlier _ former President John F. Kennedy.
Trudeau’s sophisticated, sometimes irreverent style fascinated Canada, but it riled conservatives.
Former colleagues of current Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper say Harper’s long-term goals are to shatter the image of the Liberals _ the party of former Prime Ministers Jean Chretien, Lester Pearson and Trudeau _ as the natural party of government in Canada, and to redefine what it means to be Canadian.
Harper has incrementally moved what has been an instinctively liberal country to the right since taking power in 2006. He has gradually lowered sales and corporate taxes. He has promoted the potential of Alberta’s oil sands, the world’s third-largest oil reserves, regardless of environmental objections. He has increased spending on the military and staunchly backed Israel’s right-wing government.
Harper has also successfully blitzed the country with TV attack ads against previous Liberal leaders, including during telecasts of the Academy Awards and the Super Bowl.
Justin Trudeau warned of more attacks to come in his acceptance speech.
"Canadians want to be led, not ruled. They are tired of the negative, divisive politics of Mr. Harper’s Conservatives," Trudeau said.
The Conservative party immediately put out a release slamming the inexperience of Trudeau, who is also a former high school teacher.
"Justin Trudeau may have a famous last name, but in a time of global economic uncertainty, he doesn’t have the judgment or experience to be prime minister," Conservative spokesman Fred DeLorey said.
In a moving eulogy at Trudeau’s state funeral that left many Canadians in tears, Justin challenged the country to make his father’s vision of a united, bilingual and multiethnic Canada a permanent monument.
"It’s all up to us, all of us now," he said then.
Trudeau also called for party unity after years of infighting between Chretien and former Prime Minister Paul Martin. Chretien made no mention of Martin during a speech on Sunday. Trudeau said the Liberals have been too focused on fighting each other than fighting for Canadians.
"I don’t care if you thought my father was great or arrogant," Trudeau said. "It doesn’t matter to me if you were a Chretien-Liberal or a Martin-Liberal or any other kind of Liberal. The era of hyphenated Liberals ends right here right now."
Trudeau also reached out to the French-speaking province of Quebec, where the Liberals must do well if they are to form a government again. The next election is expected in 2015.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)